Unemployment still is at a record low across the Buffalo Niagara region.
The region’s jobless rate stood at 3.2% during December – the lowest for that month in at least three decades and probably much longer than that, the state Labor Department reported Tuesday.
The drop in unemployment, which fell from 3.5% in December 2021, was the latest in a series of steady declines in jobless levels as local employers continue to struggle to find enough qualified workers to fill vacant positions.
While hiring has been subdued across the region since the spring, and the recovery from the pandemic-related job losses in 2020 has been slow, the region’s shrinking pool of available workers has pushed the unemployment rate down to a three-decade low.
At a time when hiring has been modest and the region still has nearly 25,000 fewer jobs than it did at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the region’s shrinking pool of workers who are looking for a job but can’t find one is a significant constraint on employment growth, economists said.
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Just 17,400 people were without a job and actively looking for one during December, the Labor Department said. That’s roughly 7,000 fewer workers than would be needed to fill each of the region’s unrecovered jobs.
“Unless we see an increase in the size of the labor force or we see some kind of change in the landscape, we’re going to have a difficult time recovering all of the jobs that we lost,” said Julie Anna Golebiewski, a Canisius. College economist. “I really don’t foresee it happening in the near future.”
Part of the problem is that the Buffalo Niagara labor pool is smaller than it was, leaving local employers with fewer workers to choose from as they try to fill open positions. The number of local workers has shrunk by almost 3% – or a little more than 16,000 workers, since December 2019, according to state Labor Department data.
With fewer workers and plenty of jobs to fill, the number of people who are actively looking for a job but can’t find one has dropped to a modern-day low of 17,400 during December. That’s 7,600 fewer unemployed people than in December 2019 – a 30% drop.
And partly because workers are so scarce, about 4% of the region’s jobs still haven’t returned since the pandemic. As a result, the number of people holding jobs across the region also has shrunk. It’s down by nearly 9,000 people, or slightly less than 2%.